10/10/2001 11:00PM

Arthur Appleton, a many-splendored breeder


OCALA, Fla. - As an inventor, Arthur I. Appleton's innovations range from a widely used patent for automobile seat belts to an acclaimed steak sauce. His Appleton Electric Company wired the Superdome in New Orleans. And through the years, he has campaigned a formidable stable of racehorses, including My Gallant, Jolie's Halo, and Forbidden Apple.

In the late 1970's, Appleton, together with the veteran horseman Clyde E. Nix, teamed to transform an old cattle ranch on Florida Route 326 into one of the industry's showplaces, Bridlewood Farm. Arthur and his late wife, Martha - movie fans of the 1940's may remember her as Martha O'Driscoll - were closely involved in the farm's development.

At age 86, Appleton still has his fire for the game. The family holdings in Gulfstream Park were liquidated a dozen years ago, so he no longer sits on its board. These days, his pleasure comes from racing homebreds. Few things, he will readily tell you, tickled him more than winning the 1991 running of the Appleton Handicap at Gulfstream with his homebred Jolie's Halo.

The everyday management of the farm operation and coordination with the racing stable falls to Bridlewood Farm general manager George Isaacs.

"This is a family business," Isaacs said. "Mr. A's family is interested, and there are no plans to liquidate the business should something happen to him. His children and grandchildren will carry on."

Although the area around Bridlewood Farm was undeveloped when the farm first started, the land now includes some of the Thoroughbred industry's finest facilities.

"We just got through spending a fortune refurbishing the fencing. Everything is ship-shape," Isaacs said.

"Mr. A has about 200 horses out of the 300 plus on the farm. About 80 of the farm horses are broodmares. The program is to sell at the sales while keeping the fillies we want to use as broodmares. Then, too, we'll have the horse who, for whatever reason, is not salable - you know injury, what have you. We'll try and race those as well.

"We have 11 stallions for 2002 and we have room to handle up to 15. Our criteria is pretty much standard: We want a horse with pedigree, performance, and conformation. We also want a horse that we can stand at a reasonable fee. Also, we like to limit a book to no more than 75. I know we bred over a hundred mares to Stormy Atlantic [Storm Cat] last year, but it was one of those situations where the horse was able to handle it.

"I think that you have to cut your losses if a young stallion does not show anything by the time his first crop of 3-year-olds have raced. It happens some of the most promising stallions just don't work out. One way to hedge is to participate in dual-hemisphere breeding programs."

Ski Trial is the Bridlewood Farm senior stallion at age 20. He was a multiple Grade 1 stakes-winning racehorse who, among his many successful get, sired the champion Skip Away, the most talked about gray since Native Dancer.

Also on the farm are the young stallions Wild Event and Stormy Atlantic.

Wild Event, by Wild Again, is a Grade 1-winning half-brother to champion Paradise Creek and Forbidden Apple, who is a Breeders' Cup Mile candidate. Stormy Atlantic was injured in his debut and despite splitting a pastern came back to win two stakes and place in another. He his from the family of Sadler's Wells and Nureyev.

Horses are only a part of Appleton's interests. Some 20 years ago, he, Martha, and other members of the family wanted to do something lasting for Ocala, a city of about 30,000 people at the time. The Appletons decided to endow a museum of fine arts. The family pledged the seed money, and Arthur took the bit, creating one of the finest facilities of its kind. The Appleton Museum, now associated with the Florida university system, was recently chosen to display a traveling exhibition of impressionistic art.